I was emailing with Todd Leopold the other night about our pop music preferences and he said a very poignant thing at the end of his message:
"It was welcome to see you state (on the blog) that this business is all about relationships. I would add that ALL business and life is about relationships, and it's these relationships that are the entire point of what we do. The rest - bottles of rare whiskies, mash tuns, pot stills - are simply tools that gain us these great relationships."
I thought that was a beautiful thing to write. In the end, that's what I look forward to when I go home to make a drink - thinking about the people I've met in this business and how their products have shaped my life. I used to get excited when I drank a wine that got 90 points in the Wine Spectator. That's honestly what once thrilled me when starting out at K&L, mainly because I thought that's what booze was about - about drinking what other people thought was good. Now, however, my pleasure is derived from the people, the story, and the process. I love drinking Todd's gin because Todd's an awesome guy, we have a lot in common, and he actually made this stuff with his own hands! It's the difference between buying a tomato at the grocery store and picking one out of your own garden. They're both just tomatoes, except that they're not. The latter is simply more special.
When you meet the people behind the products your whole perspective changes about drinking. It can work the other way, too! (I can't tell you how many jerks I've met and how terrible their products have tasted after those encounters!) That's been one of the great parts about doing the Good Food Awards over the last few years (by the way, if you're a producer reading this the entry period for 2013 is now open). I've gained a serious insight into the minds behind some of America's great products and it's those relationships that I think about as I make a cocktail or pour some booze over ice. The Leopold Brothers Navy Strength Gin took home top honors last year for its vibrant and clean flavor. As did the one below.
Diane Paulson's Organic Nation Gin is the only two-time award winner at the Good Food Awards for spirits. That means that two years in a row her 100% organic gin has wowed the judging panel, comprised of myself, Jennifer Colliau from the Slanted Door, Amanda Womack from Cask in the city, and a number of other names you'll probably know from the Bay Area booze scene. They're one of the few producers that actually sources organic grain neutral spirit for their base (rye from Idaho) and if you check out their website you can see the efforts Diane and her family take to make their product taste so good. I talked to her on the phone again this week and she's pumped about possibly becoming our first three-peat champion. We just got a hot new bottle price as well ($24.99, previously it was almost $40), which instantly makes it the best bang-for-your-buck gin in the store.
We're just about ready to send out a big email for our two new casks of Mount Gay Black Barrel. If you haven't tried these out yet, you should grab a bottle soon. They're so perfect for summer drinking. Just dump a healthy chunk of the bottle over ice and you're golden.
Mount Gay K&L Exclusive Black Barrel Single Cask #1098 Barbados Rum $26.99 - Earlier this year, David and I were invited to experience the new expression from Mount Gay in the most appropriate setting, at the Mount Gay facility in Barbados. We spent the week experiencing the wonderful Bajan culture. This included High Tea in the cane fields, an authentic luncheon at a traditional Bajan Plantation, etc. We spent some time with Master Blender Allen Smith discussing and experimenting with blending the two types of rum produced, light distilled in a column and heavy coming out of a pot still. We then moved to the warehouse. Waiting for us were 24 barrels of rum lined up and ready for tasting. Despite the festive atmosphere it was actually quite nerve wracking, in fact, as we'd drawn the short straws and were obliged to pick last after the other six special invitees. As each competitor selected their barrels, David and I let out sighs of relief. Somehow, the two barrels that we had independently agreed were superior to the all rest remained available. Maybe we are just lucky, but probably we just have great taste! Rich, fresh vanilla aromas were accented by light American oak spice. Brighter, lighter flavors on this one as compared to our other cask (#1140), which shows some darker spice and slightly richer texture. This stuff sing on the rocks and does wonders in a daiquiri, as the clean cane flavors pop right out of their citrus frame. This is truly a stupendous example of the high quality of Barbados' premier rum brand. (David Girard)
Mount Gay K&L Exclusive Black Barrel Single Cask #1140 Barbados Rum $26.99 - Last March, David and I flew to Barbados to visit the Mount Gay rum distillery and participate in what would be a celebration of their new label called Black Barrel - a younger, Bourbon cask-aged rum that would offer mixability as well as serious rocks potential. The standard Eclipse has always been the workhorse mixer and the Extra Old has always been one of our favorite sippers. A balance between the two - both in age and price-point - seemed like a fantastic idea. Since the Black Barrel rum would consist of Mount Gay finished in charred Bourbon casks, Remy decided to let a few retailers select their own barrels to bottle exclusively. We were at the top of their list. After careful tasting and note-taking, David and I decided that we should definitely take barrel #1140. It had the mellow cane flavor we love in a Mai Tai or Daiquiri, but added just the right amount of Bourbon spice and richness to accent that soft vanilla. The entry is dark and rich, but the finish is fresh with a flutter of sarsparilla and pepper. You can nurse a glass if you like, but, while delicious, the Black Barrel isn't a rum to sip slowly or concentrate heavily on. It's meant to be drunk in a single afternoon with friends, or dumped into a glass with tonic water and lime. We put away bottle after bottle at the local Bajan rum shacks with nothing but a few ice cubes. This is a high-quality, flavorful, tasty rum from a barrel that will only be available at K&L. (David Driscoll)
Another fun surprise was a new sweet potato vodka being produced south of my hometown of Modesto. Corbin Sweet Potato Vodka is being made in the central valley town of Atwater by the Souza family, who have been working the land for the last hundred years. They've set up a distillery onsite and their first release is this creamy, clean, and polished vodka that really caught me off guard last week. Also, if you've got a gluten allergy, you might want to give this baby a whirl as it's 100% sweet potato-based.